National Post (Latest Edition)
Is deploying dummies the new norm for tv and movie makeouts as the world battles covid?
“You must remember this ... a kiss is just a kiss ...” So sang Dooley Wilson — memorably — in Casablanca. But was he really telling it as it was when it came to Hollywood? Not really.
Kissing has often caused problems for the film industry — which is why the Production Code of the day denied Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman a prolonged smooch in their 1942 movie classic. If it’s not the guardians of public morality periodically erupting over lip- to- lip passion on the big screen, it’s apt to be the stars themselves rebelling against making onscreen whoopee with someone they can’t stand.
Now, a new wrinkle has arrived thanks to COVID-19. With film and television slowly returning to production, an urgent question has surfaced. Must the kiss be banished because of the need for social distancing? Can true romance, or at least the Hollywood version of it, survive the pandemic? Will audiences — sigh — be able to bear such deprivation?
Well, let the tears be dried and the hand- wringing end. We have underestimated the industry’s gift for ingenuity and duplicity. Recently, followers of The Bold and the Beautiful were treated to the sight of actor Lawrence Saint-victor making out with a dummy. That’s how Saint-victor, who plays Carter Walton on the long- running soap opera, achieves intimate contact with Kiara Barnes, who plays Zoe Buckingham but who on this occasion has been replaced by a mannequin stand-in.
Predictably, social media is aflame over this. Online snickering is considerable — after all, even if the dummy is carefully shot from behind under controlled lighting conditions, isn’t there a certain rigidity evident? Or maybe plasticity is a more appropriate word if we want to call it for what it is.
Unsurprisingly, other viewers are receptive: after all, ours is a technologically tolerant culture in which we’ve been conditioned to the idea of performers acting opposite a tennis ball that will later turn out to be Godzilla. And the creative forces behind The Bold and the Beautiful are putting a brave face on what they’re doing.
“It’s very exciting,” producer Brad Bell told The Associated Press. “We feel almost like television pioneers ... because we’re the first ones out, blazing new ways of producing the shows with the current safety standards, and we’re getting the job done.”
Meanwhile, the long- run Australian series Neighbours is taking a different tack. Cast member Colette Mann recently revealed that when a romantic clinch is called for, each of the two actors kisses a mirror, after which editing will make it look as though they’re kissing each other.
Over in Britain, the producers of Eastenders have another solution — keep it in the family. Real- life partners of cast members have been hauled in to act as body doubles in the romantic scenes. The Guardian newspaper recently gave a deadpan example of what takes place: “For example, if someone has to kiss Ian Beale, they’ll actually kiss their husband who is made up to look like Ian Beale.”
Of course, any TV or film set currently features other pandemic disciplines ranging from regular swab tests to daily temperature readings.
When Hallmark recently filmed the television movie Ships in the Night, on Vancouver Island, a particularly rigorous protocol was imposed. American actor Jesse Metcalfe told Variety that even before he left Los Angeles he had to take a COVID-19 test, and on arriving in Canada, he immediately went into quarantine for two weeks. But Metcalfe, who first attracted attention as a lust- inducing gardener on Desperate Housewives, was actually allowed a real kiss during shooting. However it happened under rigid conditions.
“We both got COVID tested again. And then we’re using a special spray on our faces that I guess kills the virus. And we’re also using a special mouthwash after the kissing scene. Everyone can have their own opinion about that and the effectiveness of that, but there’s definitely quite a protocol surrounding intimacy when filming.”
As for the plastic dummies and the mirror trickery happening elsewhere — well, simply see it as part of the new world order. Or as a Guardian pundit cheerfully sees it: “Hey, if it works it works.”